Stretching your Stress Out – Meet your Psoas

What is the psoas? One muscle that is still shrouded in mystery is this deep hip flexor. – by Sandra Carson

For a long time the importance of this deep core muscle was overlooked, but lately, yoga teachers and body workers are starting to see the relevance of the psoas muscle and its effect on its “owner”.

As many people in the Western world have a lifestyle or work life that gets quite stressful and involves a lot of sitting, this muscle is getting to be a major player in our physical, mental and emotional well being.

Big player in the hips
The psoas is a big “player” in the functioning of the hips. Also referred to as Iliopsoas as it merges with another deep hip muscle, the iliacus, it connects your torso to your legs and helps you stay in an upright position. Whether you walk, cycle, do your yoga practice, or just hang out on your couch, this muscle is involved and affected in pretty much everything you do, and don’t do.  This major hip flexor is “fired up” or engaged, when you lift up your legs when you walk, do yoga, cycle, swim, etc.  It needs to stretch and lengthen every time you do your Cobras and Wheels in class.  Most people walk around with a tight psoas and are not aware of it.  Luckily, practising yoga helps to open this muscle to a great extent.

Benefits of a happy psoas
The benefits of having a “happy” psoas, is that you will quite literally feel more grounded and relaxed. Physically, you have a bigger range of movement. The downsides of having a tight psoas can manifest in back and hip pain and even ankle and knee pain.  In addition to physical discomforts, a tight psoas is very fatiguing.

Effects of the psoas
Mental stress often shows its ugly head quite clearly in a painful neck and shoulders.  But the deeper part of the body stores stress as well; the hips.  The psoas is the main muscle of the “fight or fight” response of the body.  When you are startled, your psoas contracts, when you have mental or emotional stress, the psoas will respond by tightening.

Hips act like Grand Central Station!
Physically, the hips act similarly to Grand Central station; many muscles and forces come together and are distributed through the rest of the body.  The weight of the upper body comes into the pelvis and it is the part of the body that separates your upper from your lower body. The hips have many deep and strong muscles that are needed for stability, movement and mobility.  Tension in the hips is not only caused by mental stress or physical fitness; lifestyle, age, genetics, physical accidents and traumas also have an impact on tightness in the hips.

Working with your psoas in your yoga practice
In your yoga practice, make sure you always do some deeper hip openers, like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon) variations, deep lunges and some (basic) backbends.  Most standing poses already have an element of hip opening and contribute to the stretching of your psoas.

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